Friday, March 23, 2007

Pearls Of Wisdom

Rick Perlstein is a good progressive, a spirited and prodigious author and as importantly a good friend.

In this New Republic column (mark this down folks, only Rick and maybe one or two others would get me to link to this magazine), he could not be more right about the Republican playbook for smearing opponents.

This should be a must read for every Democrat running for office. Anywhere. Period.

Faggot. Nigger. Bitch.

Please excuse the blunt language. From here forward, to avoid the ugly words, I'll refer to it as "FNB politics." With little to show the electorate in 2008--after six years of uninterrupted control--besides sub-standard care from a privatized workforce at Walter Reed Hospital, thrice-married "family values" presidential candidates, and a boom in home foreclosures, the conservative base's 2008 strategy has begun to emerge: Weaken the major Democratic opponents by making their image unpalatable to the public.

Ann Coulter might have been the one to use the precise word aloud. But the effort to discredit John Edwards as not really a man began soon after he came to national prominence as John Kerry's running mate. And the endeavor fits into a running conservative pattern--one Ann Coulter's most important patron, Roger Ailes of Fox News, knows perfectly well. In The Selling of the President, Joe McGinniss relates an episode where Richard Nixon's set dressers had the candidate in front of a turquoise curtain. Ailes, Nixon's detail-obsessed TV guru, had a conniption. "Nixon wouldn't look right unless he was carrying a pocketbook," he grumbled, ordering the curtains replaced by wood panels with "clean, solid, masculine lines."

Along similar lines, Rush Limbaugh calls the insufficiently martial Iraq Study Group "James Baker's Fruit Salad." To those with good memories who pay very close attention, this is a reference to the former secretary of state's preference that the report be considered in its entirety rather than picked over like a fruit salad. But, to right-wingers who've forgotten that (the lion's share, no doubt), the nickname made just as much sense. The report recommended diplomacy. Isn't that kind of ... fruity? And, in a nod to Ailes, Limbaugh has taken to calling Fox News's chief competitor "PMSNBC."
As Rick so eloquently argues, these attacks are not random. They are based on themes which play to the worst aspects of human devlopmental history. This is why I quote my favorite historian, Richard Hofstadter, so often. Because he understood the psychological appeals to resentment, paranoia and insecurity that Republicans successfully employ (as well as members of the far right and far left in the past) perhaps better than anyone else.

John Kerry is said to "look French." John Edwards is called "The Breck Girl." Al Gore is made fun of for wearing "Earth tones" and getting wardrobe advice from "Naomi Wolf." See the pattern? They do it with race and the masculinization of women too.

Furthermore, they do the opposite with their own people, as Bush wears a flight suit and is portrayed as "resolute" and "a strong leader." Meanwhile, we had pictures of this panzy in a cheerleader outfit from high school and did nothing with them. Do you know what the other side would have done with that kind of a gold mine?

Because whether you like it or not, IT WORKS.

Democrats must be ready for this in 2008. It's political malpractice if they're not prepared at this point.


At 10:13 AM, Blogger Cliff Schecter said...

Comments, ideas, insults, anyone?

At 3:14 PM, Blogger ketemphor said...

Responding in kind is very nearly out of the question as most folks of a liberal bent find the tactic abhorrent at its root.

The only thing I can think of as a possible response is to concentrate their bile, as you've done here in some part, and amplify it. The reason many of these tactics work is because they keep things within their self-selected echo chambers. Perhaps a series of commercial buys with excerpts showing these people for the schoolyard bullies they are? The main problem I can think of is that most of these people truly have no shame, so its not like this would stop them. Perhaps I have too much faith in the common decency of the average person. God, my inner cynic is almost vomiting at the thought.

Perhaps I'll comb the self-help literature for tactics on dealing with bullies ...

At 5:13 PM, Blogger gas28man said...

Failing to respond to such tactics, ignoring them, is probably not the way to go. But at the same time, you don't want to give smears any traction that they didn't have on their own to start with, nor do you want to come off looking defensive. In some cases, the petty sniping doesn't catch on. I guess the best way to go is with a carefully worded response that can draw positive attention to a critical segment of the candidate's own message, while also trivializing and belittling the smear attempt -- highlighting just how petty it is -- can do the trick. But it takes a good speech-writer or other wordsmith, and a quick-on-his-feet candidate to make such a counterpunch stick.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger chicpope said...

I watch whenever you are on tv and I really hope the dems listen to you and stop being so afraid to use the same tactics that are used on them.

I love you Cliff.


At 3:49 PM, Blogger Nell said...

Oh, that's delightful, Cindy. You want to be part of a campaign that trades in homophobic, racist, woman-hating stereotypes -- just so long as they're directed at Republicans. Here's a little tip: there's no way to do that without encouraging those same tendencies in "our" party.

Yes, there's certainly a lot to look forward to in 2008.

There has to be a way to counter FNB politics that's both more effective and less self-defeating than giving back in kind.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger chicpope said...

Ok Nell you have a point....But the fact of the matter is they will do anything to win and we wont and therefore we wont win. I only wish we had 1,000 more people as articulate as Cliff to respond to these neocons. I truly fear for our country. When you have a populace that thinks its more important to know whats going on with Britney and who is Anna Nicoles "baby daddy", than whats going on DC, we are all in trouble.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger mahmoud said...

Interesting article, but a tad one-sided don’t you think? From the perspective of the left, George Bush is said to look like a “chimp”, and Condi Rice and Colin Powell are described as “house niggers”. Have you had your “boys” throw any more cream pies at Ann Coulter or had them shout-down any conservative, college speakers lately? You seem to have a problem with “free speech” when it’s coming from the right.

Furthermore, you do the opposite with your own people. Bill Clinton claims the woman who gave him oral sex is a “liar” and a “stalker”, and he is portrayed as an “honorable man” and “a strong leader”! When one of your congressmen tells an FBI agent who’s offering him a bribe that “we can talk about that later”, you put him out-front on your anti-war efforts. By the way, is that congressman who was found with $90.000 in his freezer still a Democratic, Committee Chairman?


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